Gael's gingersnaps: birth of a cookie monster

Soon after moving from rural Alberta to suburban British Columbia, my stepdad W. – a semi-retired farmer at the time – found himself at loose ends and itching to do something (or as it would turn out, almost anything). As my mom headed out the door on her way to work one morning, she casually tossed a cookie recipe (perhaps Gael’s Gingersnaps?) on the kitchen table and jokingly suggested he give cookie-making a go. And the rest, as they say, is history.

While W.’s previous forays into the baking world were limited to several (apparently failed) attempts at spontaneous fudge-making with his children, he took to cookie-making like a farmer to good weather. In the name of efficiency, he quickly graduated from single batches to quadruple batches (or four-bangers in his lingo) and forged new cookie sheets from pieces of metal to fit the precise dimensions of the oven. And, like all good bakers, he began tinkering with the recipe: a little ginger reduction here, a little whole wheat flour there. At one point, the recipe was adapted to include a small bit of honey and renamed gingerbends, but this modification was dropped along the way.

Today, W. frequently produces four-bangers of gingersnaps (and other favourites) for family, friends, neighbours and the occasional unsuspecting stranger who happens to be in the right place at the right time. (You would be astonished at the number of people – including city folk – who willingly, even eagerly, eat cookies from an ice cream pail proffered by a stranger with a big smile.)

There is really nothing quite like biting into a Gael's Gingersnap, its chewy ginger goodness encased in a thin crispy shell. Better yet, take your gingersnap for a dip in tea or coffee on its way to your mouth. Because they’re so little, you can guiltlessly enjoy a few (or five).

While W. is certainly a prolific gingersnap maker, his market coverage is still rather limited. For those who live outside the V3J postal code, here is the recipe:

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar + extra to coat the cookies
2 cups flour*
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 tablespoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

* I use half white flour, half whole wheat flour; W. uses 100% whole wheat flour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium-size bowl, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar. Add the egg and molasses and beat well.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix.

If the dough seems extra sticky at this point, chill it slightly in the fridge before the next step; otherwise, keep on rolling.

Using your hands, form the dough into walnut-size balls. Roll each ball in sugar, coating thoroughly, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet to bake. (They flatten completely, so leave lots of room for them to spread.)

I like to remove these cookies from the oven after about 8 minutes so that they stay slightly chewy inside. But, if you’re looking to really put the snap in the gingersnap, keep them in the oven for a full 10 minutes.

Let the cookies rest on the pan for several minutes and marvel at the perfect randomness of their cracked tops before moving them to a rack to cool completely.

Source: This recipe is originally from Gael Ronaghan, a close friend of my mom’s and one of our “neighbours” when we lived in rural Alberta.

Postscript: Slightly less-than-fresh gingersnaps are delicious crumbled over vanilla ice cream. Alternatively, they are a tasty substitute for graham cracker crumbs in parfaits, cheesecake crusts, etc.